On May 9 2014 Dr. GN Saibaba was abducted and arrested by the Maharashtra police while returning home for lunch, from examination duty at Daulat Ram College, in the North Campus of Delhi University. Dr. GN Saibaba teaches English at the Ram Lal Anand College of Delhi University.
Dr Saibaba is a highly respected teacher, well-liked by students, fellow teachers and the non-teaching staff alike. He is known as someone who took any responsibility that the administration gave him, and discharged those in time, apart from his normal teaching hours in the college. It is particularly creditable that he has continuously striven to do so despite being 90% disabled and completely wheelchair-bound. Dr. Saibaba had internalized a world view that made him see the world around him as inseparable from what he should teach in his classes. For him, every issue of the university community for a better working environment, be it for the student, teacher or non-teaching staff, was part of the larger issues that the people of the subcontinent were struggling against in search of a better tomorrow. GN Saibaba’s ability to see the integral connection between the classroom, the university and the larger outside world was what made him the centre of many initiatives of the university community.
Dr. GN Saibaba’s arrest was akin to an abduction: his car was intercepted near the School of Open Learning by plainclothes men who blind folded Saibaba and his driver, minutes away from his residence at the warden’s flat, Gwyer Hall hostel. He was not shown any warrant, nor was any other stipulated procedure followed, in his subsequent removal by air to Nagpur and then to far flung Aheri in Gadchiroli district, all in the span of a few hours. All this points to a premeditated exercise on the part of the intelligence agencies and the police to show him as a ‘dangerous person’ who has forfeited the right to be treated in accordance with the prescribed, established norms and procedures of law. Ever since then every media input given by the police evinces the need to further stigmatize and hence criminally profile the credentials of an activist academic like Dr. GN Saibaba.
As one can see in the media, the trial of GN Saibaba has already begun even before the court has initiated any procedure on the same. A series of stories is being planted in the media, especially in the local press in Nagpur, by the intelligence and the Maharashtra police about his alleged role as a member of a proscribed organization. This is precisely intended to justify every action of impropriety and impunity by the police, as well as of the denial of the basic facilities that is mandatory under law for a differently-abled person with 90 percent disabilities inside the prison. It is further intended to prejudice the court which can/may otherwise take a sympathetic view against the gross violations by the police, while considering the plea for interim bail, especially given his fragile physical condition. Any fair examination by the court of the existing laws for the disabled in vogue in India, as well as of the norms set by the UN, should have already resulted in his release from the prison. Instead there is a deliberate, callous disregard for his rights inside the prison: he is not taken for regular treatment to the doctor despite his widely fluctuating blood pressure; he has not been provided with a western toilet and human assistance without which it is impossible for him to move; he has been denied even the medication prescribed by the jail doctors for his condition. The sadistic and vindictive nature of the authorities has thrown to the winds every possible regard for the basic rights of a person who cannot move let alone survive without regular assistance.
The efforts to demonise GN Saibaba in the media are a blatant infringement of his right to be presumed innocent till proven guilty through a court of law. The conceit of the state to profile every form of dissent from within the rubric of the politics of ‘national security’, ‘terrorism’ and such is intended to intimidate those who will come forward in his defence. The stigma and pressure on the family of the arrested to come forward without any inhibitions on his defence needs no mention.
The present initiative for the defence of Dr. GN Saibaba takes its inspiration from all such previous efforts of the coming together of a cross-section of civil libertarians, intellectuals and activists of varying persuasions to stand in solidarity with the incarcerated, to uphold the principles of fairness and justice that mark the essential fabric of a democratic polity. The defence of Dr. GN Saibaba cannot be done without being unequivocal about upholding his right to his political opinion; his right to dissent to such policies of the government that he believes are against the interests of the people; and his right to do so without fear of repression or reprisal. GN Saibaba’s political convictions led him to go beyond the limits set by the classroom and his physical limitations, to bring to the students and the university community at large, that larger reality of significance, of concern, for the vast sections of the people, especially the poorest of the poor. His tireless efforts to bring every conscientious individual to address the plight of the adivasis ravaged by the monstrous violence of Operation Green Hunt (OGH) initiated by the Indian state, also brought him into the cross-hairs of the government. The defence of Dr. GN Saibaba stresses on the principles of fairness and justice that mark every democratic polity, and hence on the right of every individual to have his/her opinion, and to express those without being intimidated/criminalized by a penal state teethed with the worst ever draconian laws and instruments.
The ideology and politics of the ‘war against terror’, of ‘national security’ and the ideology that ‘Maoism/naxalism is the single largest internal security threat’ all have pervaded the state response towards every form of dissent that questioned the politics of development unveiled under the rubric of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation since 1991. The present arrest and abduction of Dr. GN Saibaba is also being projected in the media as an act in the interest of the ’war against terror’. All violations of his fundamental rights are hence considered less significant when compared to the ‘need’ to weed out ‘terror’.
Dr GN Saibaba is an academic who has persevered to fulfill his professional and political responsibilities to the best of his capacity, despite the constraints of being a differently-abled with 90 percent disability, and in the face of the intimidations of this ‘war on terror’. His abduction in the name of ‘arresting’ him, in violation of all legal procedures and safeguards, is a test case for the violation of the autonomy of Delhi University. The campaign in defence of Dr. GN Saibaba calls upon all progressive, democratic sections within and outside the campus to come forward and defend his fundamental rights:
his right not to be undermined or criminalized for his political convictions;
his right to defend himself without any prejudice or stigma;
his rights as a differently-abled person, outside and inside prison;
and his rights to have his opinions and be heard, even while not necessarily agreeing to the same.